Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dave Oliphant

by Steven Williams

black and white photograph of Dave Oliphant

Dave Oliphant is a native Texan poet, a recently retired (2006) professor at the University of Texas in Austin, a noted writer on the history of Jazz in Texas, and editor/publisher of Prickly Pear Press.

Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State front coverThe newest book by Dave Oliphant is Jazz Mavericks of the Lone Star State (2007). It is a collection of sixteen published and previously unpublished essays on Jazz in Texas. Several of these essays describe the contributions of Jazz musicians Eddie Durham, Kenny Dorham, Leo Wright, and Omette Coleman. He also expands on earlier work on the history of swing to discuss Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies as well as Duncan McLean's Lone Star Swing. He also discusses the relationship between British Jazz criticism and Texas Jazz while covering the work of Texas folklorist Alan Lomax's biographical work on Jelly Roll Morton. There is also discussionn of the links between Jazz and literature in Texas, particularly Texas poets.

William Carlos Williams poet (black and white photo)

Regarding Oliophant's poetry, his style is noted for the influence of William Carlos Williams including an adaption of similar techniques, including free-verse rhythms, and his concern with 'place'. The poetry published by Oliphant include the books Backtracking (2004), Memories of Texas Towns and Cities (2000), Maria's Poems (1987), and Austin (1985), and Footprints, 1961-1978 (1978), Lines and Mounds (1976).

Lines and Mounds (1976) is considered a particularly Southwestern influenced collection of work. It reflects the early direction his career as a poet took towards a regionalist attitude emphasizing the interpretation of the history of a place from its origins on into the present. Footprints, 1961-1978 (1978) is noted for its non-regional subjects in addition to the author's concern for the history, culture, and feeling for the 'place' where he has lived, much like his previous book "Lines and Mounds" (1976). Austin (1985), a book-length poetic history of the city, has been compared to William Carlos Williams' approach in "Paterson."

Maria's Poems front cover

Maria's Poems (1987) is named for a sequence of nine poems Oliphant has written about his Chilean-born wife. The author frequently acknowledges the influence of his feelings for his wife in his work as well as his attitude towards life.

Memories of Texas Towns and Cities front cover

Memories of Texas Towns and Cities (2000) was begun in 1974 and is an epic poetic sequence that collectively creates an portrait of Texas. The images and broad range of subjects include Texas places, world history, regional history, historical figures, contemporary people, and literature. This book as one complete work functions as both a remembrance and a celebration of place and people by its author. Some of the material has appeared previously in Oliphant's earlier collections, but this book represents the author's complete Memories sequence, a wide-ranging picture of Texans and Texas places.

Backtracking, poems by Dave Oliphant

Backtracking (2004) is an eclectic collection of contemporary American poetry about Texas landscapes and people. Many of the pieces are explorations of the influences and inspirations that have influenced his poetry. This includes most significantly the impact of both Spanish culture and his native Chilean wife of thirty-seven years. The collection includes pieces celebrating such diverse literary, artistic, and musical influences as Charles Ives, Van Gogh, The Blues, and Jazz music.

Oliphant met his wife in Chile when he was teaching there. The resulting deep cultural connection to Chile explains, in part, Oliphant's work as translator from the Chilean Spanish Figures of Speech: Poems of Enrique Lihn (1999) and Love Hound: Poems by Oliver Welden (2006).

Figures of Speech front cover

Figures of Speech (1999) is a representative bilingual collection of sixty-two poems by a Chilean poet of international stature. They bilingual presentation allows readers of Spanish to enjoy and appreciate the original works as well as Oliphant's accurate and evocative renditions. Oliphant divides the book into six sections, broadly categorized by style and subject. The book also includs an introductory chapter by the translator in which he discusses Lihn’s interest in the function of language. This collection was chosen by the translator after the poet's death.

Love Hound, Poems by Oliver Welden front cover

Love Hound: Poems by Oliver Welden (2006) is bilingual republication of a collection of poetry by a noted Chilean poet who 'disappeared' during the Pinochet dictatorship which subsequently suppressed his work. He was Editor of the Chilean poetry journal Tebaida and a winner of the Luis Tello National Poetry Award of the Society of Chilean Writers.

Roundup, An Anthology of Texas Poets front cover

Roundup: An Anthology of Texas Poets (1999) was edited by Oliphant and this collection also contains some of his work.

Texan Jazz front cover

The interest in Jazz music expressed in Oliphant's Backtracking, is another important aspect of his work as a writer and educator. Texan Jazz (1996) is one of his nonfiction books and it reflects an enthusiastic study of Jazz that has been ongoing for fifty years. The artists discussed in "Texan Jazz" include Scott Joplin, Hersal Thomas, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sippie Wallace, Jack Teagarden, Buster Smith, Hot Lips Page, Eddie Durham, Herschel Evans, Charlie Christian, Red Garland, Kenny Dorham, Jimmy Giuffre, Ornette Coleman, John Carter, and many others. The book has been critically well received because of its meticulous research and is considered an overview of Jazz as a whole as well as a definitive history of Texas Jazz.

The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941 front cover

The Early Swing Era, 1930 to 1941 (2002) is an important work of Jazz scholarship on the subject and is presented in a style that is accessible to the general reader. Oliphant's book provides information on 'Swing' style Jazz artists that covering their methods, innovations, and recordings. This includes recommendations for important performances available on compact disc. It is organized biographically covering both individuals and groups signficant to this Jazz style's development. This reference work is also especially interesting for its discussion of the precursors to the Big Band Era of Swing Jazz style, providing fuller discussion of some individuals and groups than has previously been available.

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five (Louis Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, and Lil Hardin-Armstrong) black and white photograph

Newer Article: John Graves and the Texas literary heritage


Older Article: Betty Crocker, the origins of an American pop culture icon

Creative Commons License
Dave Oliphant, Texan poet and Jazz historian by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Steven Williams through Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline.

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